A time for “!Explore-ation”: Learning to lead, question, and encourage

Emily Graber, Methacton

emilygraber.jpgThis summer I participated in the !Explore program with sixteen other youth from across the United States and Canada. !Explore, initiated by Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS), is a program for high school juniors and seniors who are interested in how they could fit into the church. The program includes a 100 hour internship with a church and an 18 day group experience. There are two group experiences during the summer, and mine was in July. Both the internship and the July group were fun learning experiences and I am grateful for the opportunity I had to be involved.

My internship at Methacton Mennonite Church officially began on June 17. That first week I taught Bible school and planned worship for Sunday. It was an incredibly positive experience and it was a good way to begin. I have helped with Bible schools in the past, but this year I was in charge of the teaching part, which ended up being a lot of fun. I taught nine girls, grades 3 and 4. Each day was exciting and I was sad when the week was over.

The second Sunday I led worship, which was much harder than I thought. I enjoyed the planning aspect, but leading was hard because I didn’t feel as though I could worship while I was leading. That week taught me just how hard it is to be up front all the time and how much we should really appreciate our worship leaders and encourage them as they lead.

Then I was off to the Mennonite Youth Convention in San Jose for a week, and the day after I got home from that, I drove with two other !Explorers, Larissa Landis and Lauren Derstine, to AMBS in Elkhart, Indiana, for the group part of the program. Larissa, Lauren, and I spent, July 9-26, with a fun group from all over.

The first few days we spent at Mirror Valley and Amigo Centre retreats in Michigan, getting to know each other. Then we went back to AMBS and studied. We had lectures from professors about various ministry skills, like pastoral care, preaching, and worship leading.

While at AMBS, we were put into theological exploration groups, nicknamed “theolex,” where a group of five or six of us would meet with a professor almost daily and talk about our theological question, which we had to decide on during the application process. My theological question began with where the Bible came from and how we know that the right books were chosen for it. The leaders split us into groups depending on our questions. Other people in my group had questions regarding how wealth in the Mennonite church affects our ability to live simply, how we know the Bible is true, why God lets people suffer, how to talk with people about pacifism, and a study of the book of Revelation. At first, I didn’t see how all of our topics fit together, but by the end, I think we all realized that all the topics had a lot of overlap and were all important. While I began with only a few questions, the more I learned, the more questions I had, and each new question was equally important. It has been through this time of intense questioning that I have grown much closer to God. Theolex was a highlight for me.

After several days at AMBS, we went to Chicago and worked with the Mennonite Mission Network’s DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection) program. I worked with kids at a preschool for two days, spent one day boxing up food for elderly and young children, and one day weeding and helping in a community garden. One night Brenda Matthews came and spoke to everyone who was participating that week. She talked about trust and accountability. Her message was challenging. After our week at DOOR, we went back to AMBS and continued our learning, then spent the last few days back at Mirror Valley.

After a wonderful experience with other !Explorers, it was exciting to come back and share what I learned. The last three weeks of my internship with Methacton Mennonite I preached twice, went on a 24 hour silent retreat, and attended an Alpha Conference about sharing faith in contemporary contexts.

!Explore was an amazingly positive experience. I learned a lot about the church, myself, and how I can fit into the church. In the internship I learned the incredible importance of encouraging the leaders. In the group experience I learned that it’s really okay to question, and it’s through questioning that sometimes the greatest growth can occur. I had an absolutely fabulous experience and I hope !Explore continues in the future.

Emily Graber graduated from Chrisptopher Dock High School in 2007. She is currently a student at Goshen (Ind.) College.